COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ralph D. Russo/AP) Think about how often you have seen Bryce Drew’s famous buzz-beater for Valparaiso. The one that broke Mississippi’s heart in the 1998 NCAA Tournament and turned little Valpo into one of March’s most memorable giant killers.
Dozens of times? Hundreds, maybe?READ MORE: Richardson Carries Colgate Over Loyola (Md.) 65-52
You still haven’t seen “The Shot” – as it’s known at Valparaiso – as much as the Crusaders.
“It’s hard to count how many times we’ve seen it,” Crusaders forward Alec Peters said Wednesday. “It’s on pictures throughout our campus.”
The Crusaders (28-5) are back in the tournament and so is Drew, now in his fourth season as coach. Valpo, the 13th seed in the Midwest Region faces No. 4 Maryland (27-6) on Friday.
The Crusaders have not won a tournament game since that surprising run to the Sweet Sixteen in 1998.
They figure it is about time to add one more shining moment.
“I think the biggest thing that we have to go through thinking is that we want to create our own moment,” Peters said Wednesday. “We want to have something like that that we can remember, just like he did with that shot.”
The Horizon League champions have overcome injuries and inexperience to return to the NCAA Tournament for the ninth time since 1996, when Bryce’s father, Homer, was coaching the Crusaders.
“We have five guys on the floor that all work together,” Bryce Drew said. “We don’t have just one dominant guy. But collectively we all work together within our schemes.”
Maryland is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010, and the first time under coach Mark Turgeon, who took Wichita to the round of 16 in 2006 and went to the second round four straight seasons with Texas A&M.
Things to watch for when Valpo meets Maryland:
Maryland guard Melo Trimble might not be the most famous freshman in the country, but few have been better. The Washington, D.C., native leads the Terps in scoring and assists, and was an all-Big Ten pick by the media.
Turgeon said Trimble’s game and frame (6-foot-3, 190) don’t scream future NBA star, but he’s getting there.READ MORE: Holden, Timberlake Lift Towson Over Delaware 69-62
“I think NBA looks for a certain style of player, certain type of player. Length, speed. Above the rim, things like that,” the coach said.
“And he’s not that guy. He’s not the 6-7 wing span, run and dunk `em kind of kid; he’s just a really good basketball player,” Turgeon said. “So he’s close to that conversation. And I think where he was a year ago to where he is now, he wouldn’t have even been considered in that conversation, but he shed 20 pounds. Another year or so, maybe the conversation will be different. But I’m just glad we got him.”
Trimble and senior Dez Wells, a Xavier transfer and the one Maryland player with NCAA tournament experience, form maybe the best backcourt in the Big Ten.
Valparaiso has faced plenty of injury adversity during this season.
Before it even started the Crusaders lost point guard Lexus Williams to a knee injury. Then his replacement, Keith Carter (toe), was injured early in the conference season.
“So we ended up playing a 6-8 point guard (Victor Nickerson) who had double hip surgery in the offseason, the Alex Rodriguez hip surgery, major hip surgery,” Drew said.
During the Horizon League tournament, guard Tevonn Walker (right knee) was injured during the semifinals and played only four minutes of the title game victory against Green Bay. In that championship game, guard Darien Walker took a shot to the face that left him dizzy and with a swollen nose.
BIGGER IS BETTER
Often when a team from a mid-major conference faces one from a power conference, it’s the team from the name-brand league that has a size advantage and controls the glass. That’s not necessarily the case with Valpo and Maryland.
Valpo was only outrebounded twice this season. Peters (6-9) and center Vashil Fernandez (6-10), along with Nickerson and reserve forward David Skara (6-9), allow the Crusaders to see eye to eye with the Terps.
Turgeon said Valpo’s size might work in Maryland’s favor.MORE NEWS: Lehner Makes 34 Saves, Golden Knights Shut Out Capitals 1-0
“If they had a bunch of 6-foot guards running around, center at 6-5, shooting 3s, those are hard teams to guard,” Turgeon said. “So I think it’s a little bit of an advantage for us that they’re this big. And their size is something that we see every day when we play.”